In my last letter (Why I Left Church and Why I Came Back) I discussed why going to church is a necessity for Christians. So how do you find a church that’s healthy? The best method to separate the wheat from the chaff is outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. In it Jesus instructs a crowd how to distinguish the good religious leaders of the day from the bad, “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit... Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:17, 20)
A Healthy Church:
Start with the website, it should have clean design and be easy to navigate. Look for the statement of faith, every church website should have this. It needs to be clear and concise and agree with the Bible.
Next, visit the campus. Healthy churches have friendly greeters who are well informed and helpful. Don’t laugh, but look at the bathrooms. If the people there take pride in their church, the bathrooms will be clean. The styles concerning interior decorating and music vary, but the whole atmosphere should be inviting.
It’s important to note the ‘temperature’ of a church. You’ll notice that not just the greeters but the congregation is friendly. People are happy to be there. They bring the whole family and invite friends and neighbors.
Service starts on time and there’s no part of it that drags or feels unnecessary because they are respectful of your time. The worship focuses on praising God.
The message is balanced. The pastor preaches on a variety of topics that are relevant to the needs of the ordinary person. They preach out of the whole Bible, not just a few verses. They stand firm in sound doctrine and cover all aspects of God’s justice, grace and truth.
If you’re a parent, you’ll drop off your kids in children’s church. Listen to what they have to say about service. Was it fun and engaging? Healthy churches always invest a lot into their kids.
Another big area is missions. They should be investing in the local/global community both financially and through volunteering. Churches are there to serve and that attitude rubs off on their people.
Small groups are available and easy to join, i.e. the group leader emails you back when you contact them. These are places to make great and long lasting friendships. Notice how people who have been there a long time talk about the pastors. They should still feel comfortable asking questions and offering suggestions on how to continually improve the church.
If all these things are happening, you should see positive changes in the lives of the members of the church. Time after time, week after week, healthy churches produce good fruit, from missionary work to relationships built in small groups. Marriages are restored. Abusive relationships are ended. Healing and restoration happens in individuals and families because God’s Word is cultivated in people’s hearts through preaching and demonstrating what has been preached.
An Unhealthy Church:
Some major red flags are obvious, but others are more tolerated. This letter is based on my experience, and some of the issues I have observed across the board with unhealthy churches are ego, micromanaging, confusion, and anger.
Although legitimate needs are voiced to the head pastor or management, they are never addressed. The person in charge assumes they are being challenged and the ‘complaint‘ is seen as an affront to their authority.
Head pastors limit staff members effectiveness to efficiently run their area of ministry by waiting on the approval of every little decision. With this mentality staff become harsh with volunteers and whip them into submission because the margin of human error is not allowed.
There’s also a severe lack of communication down the chain of command. The worship team doesn’t know what they’re playing until right before service, the ushers and AV department aren’t told what’s going to happen until the service begins. Disorganization creates an atmosphere of distrust and confusion. The congregation don’t know what is expected of them and they don’t know what to expect from the pastor. In these instances events get cancelled or are severely understaffed. Sadly, new visitors are treated like an inconvenience instead of a blessing.
Chronic anger voiced by the head pastor’s or deacon board's frustration from a unsupportive congregation is a huge red flag and not to be ignored. Blaming the congregation for a dying church is a backwards idea. Good fruit cannot come from a rotten tree.
My intent is not to point out every red flag imaginable, but instead look for all the major signs of a healthy thriving church and don’t sweat the little stuff. Spiritual growth is vital to our Christian walk. I encourage all of you to do your homework and to pray and seek God to lead you to the local church that would be the best fit for you and your family. Remember, where there’s good fruit, there’s a healthy church.
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